COLUMBUS -- A pair of well-rested Big Ten Conference foes do battle on Saturday afternoon, as the Iowa Hawkeyes challenge the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Both teams had byes last week, and Iowa brings a 4-2 record into this contest, while Ohio State is perfect at 6-0.
The Hawkeyes suffered their first conference loss on Oct. 5, falling at home to Michigan State in a 26-14 final. Iowa dropped a 30-27 to visiting Northern Illinois in the season opener, but then reeled off four straight victories, including a 23-7 verdict at Minnesota in the Big Ten opener the week prior to the MSU loss. Iowa has won both of its road games this season.
Ohio State owns the nation's longest winning streak at 18 games, giving second-year head coach Urban Meyer a victory in every game he has coached in Columbus. The Buckeyes, who have scored less than 40 points only once this season, took out Wisconsin and Northwestern in their first two league tilts, and this is the first of two straight the team will play at home. After that, three of their final four games will take place on the road, including the finale at bitter rival Michigan on Nov. 30.
Ohio State has won four straight and 12 of the last 13 meetings with Iowa, elevating its lead in the all-time series to 46-14-3.
The Iowa offense is averaging 29.7 ppg, and while that figure is nearly twice as much as the Big Ten's-lowest scoring team (Purdue, 15.3 ppg), it still ranks the squad 11th in the conference. The Hawkeyes use a balanced attack to churn out 416.8 ypg, running for 207.5 ypg and passing for 209.3 ypg. Jake Rudock has been effective, if unspectacular under center, completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 1,202 yards with eight TDs and six interceptions. Kevonte Martin-Manley has been his favorite target, logging twice as many receptions as his closest teammate with 26 grabs for 225 yards and a score. Mark Weisman has been a workhorse out of the backfield, rushing for 624 yards (third-best in the Big Ten) and scoring three TDs. Rudock has five rushing scores to his credit it tallying 139 yards on 31 carries.
Weisman's exploits aside, the Iowa offense has failed to elicit a whole of fear in the hearts of the opposition this season. The defense on the other hand, has been more impressive, with foes scoring just 16.8 ppg on a typical output of 290.0 ypg. The Hawkeyes give up only 88.5 ypg on the ground, and they have yet to surrender a rushing TD, while their effort against the pass results in 201.5 ypg, and their yield on third-down conversion attempts stands at 26.7 percent. All of the aforementioned defensive figures rank the team third in the conference. Their nine INTs rank fourth, but their six sacks has them 11th. Anthony Hitchens paces the unit with 59 tackles, while James Morris and B.J. Lowery have three picks apiece, and Dominic Alvis has a pair of sacks.
Iowa owns the nation's ninth-ranked defense, and while defensive coordinator Phil Parker likes what he has seen thus far, he is cognizant of the significant challenges that lie ahead.
"We're 4-2, the same situation we were last year, but our defense is much improved. The difficult thing is staying focused on the one you have next," Parker said after the Michigan State game. "My biggest focus right now is Ohio State."
Under Meyer's watchful eye, the Buckeyes are firing on all cylinders, as they lead the Big Ten in scoring (46.8 ppg), averaging just shy of 500 yards per contest along the way. The run generates 280.7 ypg, with a league-leading 17 rushing TDs. The pass, with Braxton Miller (.653, 609 yards, six TDs, two INTs) and Kenny Guiton (.684, 664 yards, 13 TDs, two INTs) at the controls, accounts for 212.2 ypg with 19 scores. Corey Brown and Devin Smith are OSU's top receivers, the two combining for 53 grabs, 743 yards and 10 TDs. Jordan Hall has been the most productive running back, amassing 427 yards and eight TDs.
The Ohio State defense, while not grabbing as many headlines as the offense, has been solid in yielding just 19.2 ppg behind only 326.2 ypg -- both figures ranking in the upper half of the conference standings, and the latter ranking the team 15th nationally. The Buckeyes have been especially tough against the run, permitting a scant 86.2 ypg and only three rushing scores. The unit ranks second in the league with 16 sacks, while its 25.3 percent allowance on third- down conversion attempts is the best in the Big Ten. Ryan Shazier headlines the defense with 47 tackles, which includes a club-best eight TFL and he has forced two fumbles as well. Noah Spence has logged three sacks, while Doran Grant and Bradley Roby have each picked off a pair of passes.
In his weekly meeting with the media, Meyer spoke with reverence about the Iowa defense and the task his team has in this matchup.
"A very good Iowa defense. Just because I don't know a whole lot about Iowa other than I did coach against them in a bowl game awhile back and they are the same as they have always been on defense, real stout, real firm against the run. I believe they have not given up a rushing touchdown, I read that somewhere, and I can see that they are very good. So just a big game."
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